Speed not a fac­tor in road­kill

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

SUR­VEYS of wild an­i­mals killed by ve­hi­cle traf­fic (road­kill) have pro­duced strong data and sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions. This is ac­cord­ing to Bridge­stone, which spon­sored the En­dan­gered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) re­cent in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the is­sue of road­kill in the Pi­lanes­berg Na­tional Park.

The sur­veys, con­ducted by the EWT be­tween Oc­to­ber 21 and Novem­ber 23, 2014, con­sisted of on-site in­ves­ti­ga­tion of road­kill as well as ques­tion­naires com­pleted by 302 vis­i­tors to the park. Of the 120 road­kill ob­served by the road­kill re­search team, 62 were amphibians, 27 were rep­tiles, 20 were birds, 10 were mam­mals and one was not iden­ti­fi­able.

Ve­hi­cle num­bers were mon­i­tored by the use of traf­fic-count­ing de­vices. How­ever, the road­kill re­search team soon dis­cov­ered that ele­phants had taken a lik­ing to the de­vices and dam­aged them. Drawing on pre­vi­ous re­search which has shown that ele­phants dis­like the smell of chilli pep­per, the team then ap­plied a daily coat­ing of chilli pep­per and oil onto the coun­ters. The traf­fic-count­ing de­vices were then pro­tected from fur­ther dam­age.

One of the most in­ter­est­ing as­pects of the project was the role of speed in con­tribut­ing to road­kill. “More than 95% of re­spon­dents to the ques­tion­naire be­lieved that speed is the sole cause of road­kill. Our aim was to in­ves­ti­gate this is­sue in more de­tail,” said the EWT’s Wildlife and Roads Project ex­e­cu­tant Wendy Collinson.

Com­pli­ance with park speed lim­its was found to be high, with 72% of the 6 981 ve­hi­cles mon­i­tored driv­ing at or be­low the speed lim­its. In or­der to in­ves­ti­gate the role of speed in de­ter­min­ing rates of road­kill, the re­search team placed fake an­i­mals on the road and ob­served the be­hav­iour of 201 driv­ers. “Of th­ese driv­ers, al­most 70% were con­sid­ered not to be look­ing at the road, but rather scan­ning the bush for wildlife,” said Collinson.

“This sug­gests that many road­kills in na­tional parks hap­pen be­cause of the ex­pec­ta­tion that an­i­mals are to be found in the habi­tat along­side the road, rather than on the road it­self,” she said.

The team did not find a sig­nif­i­cant re­la­tion­ship be­tween the num­ber of fake an­i­mals hit and the speed at which the ve­hi­cles were trav­el­ling, with 71,5% of driv­ers driv­ing over the an­i­mals when as­sessed to be driv­ing less than 20 km/h, 62,1% when driv­ing be­tween 20 km/h and 40 km/h, and 74,2% driv­ing more than 60 km/h.

“From our sur­vey, it seems that the ob­ser­va­tion level of the driver, rather than the speed of the ve­hi­cle, is the key fac­tor in pre­vent­ing road­kills,” Collinson said. “One of our rec­om­men­da­tions from the lat­est road­kill sur­vey is that a driver-aware­ness cam­paign be launched in parks to make driv­ers more aware of an­i­mals on the roads them­selves,” Collinson said.

Collinson also said that she is con­cerned about the low aware­ness lev­els of road­kills among park vis­i­tors. “Of the 284 re­spon­dents who had vis­ited a park pre­vi­ously, only 2,8% had no­ticed road­kill, with 6,3% notic­ing a road­kill on their cur­rent visit,” she said.

Bridge­stone public re­la­tions manager De­sirée van Niek­erk, said the re­sults of the lat­est road­kill sur­vey proved fas­ci­nat­ing. “Bridge­stone has been in­volved with the road­kill project for three years now and we ap­plaud Wendy and her team’s con­tri­bu­tion to both road safety and wildlife pro­tec­tion,” she said.

“We hope th­ese lat­est find­ings will be used to im­prove the qual­ity of the ex­pe­ri­ence of park vis­i­tors and safe­guard the an­i­mals in th­ese pro­tected ar­eas,” she said.

The next stage of the project will start soon in Addo Ele­phant Na­tional Park. More in­for­ma­tion: www.bridge­stone.co.za and www.ewt.org.za

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